Rory McIlroy

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An Inside Look as the Open Returns to Royal Portrush

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Before Augusta National’s “Amen Corner” there was “Calamity Corner,” the renowned 16th at Royal Portrush Golf Club’s Dunluce Links.

This week, golf viewers around the world will get to know this hole as the Open Championship makes its epic homecoming to Northern Ireland for the first time since 1951. 

Royal Portrush’s Head Professional for the last twenty years, Gary McNeill, has extremely high expectations for the anticipated 148th Open.

However, the course that players will face starting Thursday morning does not look exactly like the track that McNeill and the rest of the Portrush community have cherished since its inception. 

In order to accommodate the influx of fans expected by the R&A each year at the Open, the Dunluce has had to undergo some major alterations. The only space large enough for the required spectator village was the land occupied by the original Harry Colt-designed 17th and 18th holes. 

Although the final two holes held a special place in Portrush’s history, the members were willing to build two new holes, slotted in as the 7th and 8th, which borrowed land from the club’s second course, the Valley Links. Other notable renovations include two new bunkers on the 1st and a new championship tee box on the 14th, making the hole 80 yards longer. 

“Everything that Martin Ebert, the architect, has done is very much in keeping with what was already here,” said McNeill. “It just feels like the course is almost a better golf course with the addition of the two new holes.”

The old 17th and 18th holes were situated on a relatively flat piece of the property and “didn’t have a lot of character” McNeill explained. The new 7th and 8th holes, on the other hand, boast sweeping undulations that run throughout the fairways and greens and are located in one of the most scenic sections of the golf course. 

Another picturesque hole, the 5th, named “White Rocks,” is a 380-yard downhill dogleg par four, featuring three new fairway bunkers, including two that are about 300 yards from the tee, strategically placed to catch wayward drives. The real danger, though, lies behind the green. The tiered putting surface slopes away from you, toward the daunting cliffs of White Rocks beach. A treacherous out-of-bounds line is only a few paces off the back of the green. 

“During the championship they will play the players up a bit, to entice them to have a crack at the green. It’s what the R&A look upon as a ‘risk and reward’ short par four where there’s a bit of entertainment for the spectators,” said McNeill. “If they get a hard bounce, or catch some of the slopes there, they could run out of bounds over the back. We anticipate that there will be quite a bit of drama on this one.” 

Royal Portrush’s most famous hole, the unnerving par three 16th, fittingly named “Calamity Corner,” will prove to be drama-prone as well, especially during the Sunday finish. Measuring at a lengthy 236 yards, it is played over a “very deep chasm which lies between the tee and the green and on the right-hand side,” said McNeill.

To the left of the green is a shallow swale, a sort of safe-haven for players who either unconsciously or consciously choose to guard against the danger to the right. In the 1951 Open, Bobby Locke purposefully played to this area each day of the championship and made an up-and-down par each time, giving the corner a title that stuck: Bobby Locke’s Hollow. 

Will players be happy to walk away from Calamity Corner with a par? “They’d be delighted,” McNeill emphatically remarked.  

Like at any traditional links course, the swirling coastal winds will play a major factor. But Royal Portrush takes this challenge to a new level. 

“There are no two holes that consecutively run in the same direction,” explained McNeill. “You are constantly dealing with winds coming from different directions.”

As a whole, Portrush is known to be a driver’s golf course. In order to attack pins on the Dunluce’s many elevated greens, it is imperative to be playing from the manicured fairways. 

The rough, on the other hand, is nightmarish. According to McNeill the tall grass is “particularly penal this year. It has been unusually warm through the winter and the spring months so it’s a little juicier than it normally would be at this time of year.” 

Whose game will fit this masterfully crafted puzzle-like links? 

McNeill has his eye on the 28-year-old Englishman Tommy Fleetwood, whose accuracy off the tee could give him a great shot at being named this year’s Champion Golfer of the Year. 

“Tommy Fleetwood is a great driver of the golf ball and he’s been knocking on the door at the US Open on tough golf courses, where the premium is very much on driving the ball in play.”

McNeill noted that the Portrush community has a great deal of confidence in Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, and Darren Clarke, three Northern Ireland natives. Additionally, Brooks Koepka’s caddie, Ricky Elliot, grew up playing Royal Portrush. 

“Ricky knows this golf course very well and Brooks – there’s not many players playing better than him now, particularly in major championships,” said McNeill. 

When the Claret Jug is raised Sunday evening in the shadows of the Dunluce castle ruins, golf viewers will all be hoping it does not take another 68 years for the Open Championship to make another swing through this dreamscape on the coast of Northern Ireland. 

Caroline Wozniacki announces engagement

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Caroline Wozniacki has become engaged again.

The Danish tennis player says on Twitter that she accepted a marriage proposal from American basketball player David Lee.

Alongside a photograph of her left hand showing an engagement ring, Wozniacki wrote “happiest day of my life yesterday saying yes to my soulmate.”

Wozniacki split with golfer Rory McIlroy in 2014, days after their wedding invitations were sent out.

2017 Open Championship Preview

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It’s the oldest major in golf and the most recognizable trophy in the sport.  It’s a course next to the Irish Sea whose defining characteristic – the weather – can change by the hour. It’s a field that includes some of the most accomplished golfers in the world. 

The 146th Open Championship returns to NBC Sports this week with coverage from Thursday to Sunday on the Golf Channel and NBC.

WATCH: First round of The Open (Thursday at 1 a.m. ET on Golf Channel)

For those hoping to raise the Claret Jug in 2017, the Open arrives at an interesting time. Would-be favorites such as Rory McIlroy and Jason Day are mired in slumps, while the list of contenders includes breakout stars like U.S. Open-winner Brooks Koepka, and Tommy Fleetwood who is playing on his home course at Royal Birkdale.

The course could provide some of the most enduring memories for the 2017 Open, with the forecast calling for rain and wind throughout the weekend. Royal Birkdale has a reputation for extreme weather. Arnold Palmer’s Open-victory in 1961 is of course remembered for torrential rain. His unbelievable recovery shot from a thicket is still marked by a plaque on the 16th hole.  Later trips to Royal Birkdale included brush fires in 1976 and turbulent winds that challenged golfers in 1998.

Think of it as an 18-hole microcosm of what the Open Championship is all about.

Searching for glory between the raindrops will be defending champion Henrik Stenson, who held off Phil Mickelson to win at Royal Troon in 2016. They’re just a few of the veterans who could thrive at the Open, which has traditionally been the friendliest major to older players.

There should be several interesting pairings to keep an eye on during the first two days of the tournament, including Stenson and Jordan Spieth going off together on Thursday and Friday. Another star-studded trio includes world number one Dustin Johnson alongside McIlroy and Charl Schwartzel.

First round coverage of the 2017 Open Championship begins Thursday at midnight on the Golf Channel and continues over the weekend on NBC.

Five Open Favorites to Watch:

Dustin Johnson – The world number one is looking to win his second major after withdrawing from The Masters and missing the cut at the U.S. Open last month.

Rory McIlroy – Despite a run of poor form, McIlory has dominated these difficult links courses before, with an Open Championship win in 2014 and top five finish at Royal Troon in 2016.

Jordan Spieth– His Travelers Championship victory reintroduced Spieth to the casual fan, but he’s made the cut at his last four Open Championships and is a favorite again in 2017.

Sergio Garcia– The Masters winner is getting married next week, but would love to add some hardware at Royal Birkdale first. He’s looking for his 11th career top ten finish at the Open Championship.

Rickie Fowler– While Fowler has a made a career of performing well in majors without winning, he’s coming off a top-five U.S. Open finish at Erin Hills and has a real shot at the Claret Jug.